Resolving the ASUU issue
The incessant strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria should be a matter of concern for all Nigerians but more important is to find a lasting solution to the menace. At the last count, ASUU has gone on strike about 16 times between 1999 and 2022. By any standard, this dubious record cannot be tolerated and it is the duty of all stakeholders in the education sector and, indeed, all Nigerians to find an enduring solution. It is in the light of this that I make this intervention.
The most painful aspect of the imbroglio is that the future of young Nigerians is being put at great risk. In the latest strike, students have not been able to go to their classes for seven months and still counting. Many may never be able to go back as some opportunistic complications may set in such as unplanned pregnancy, crime, loss of interest in schooling among other negative things. It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.
ASUU is asking for increased funding of education by the government through revatilisation funds, increase in salaries and allowances, reversing the payment platform and replacing it with an alternative payment system that takes care of their peculiar situations. Most importantly, they are asking for the implementation of an agreement reached in 2009 and subsequent modifications to the agreement. But it appears that government is unable to meet these demands owing to a dwindling economic situation in the country. Oil revenue has been going down and the situation is compounded by an inclement economic outlook in the international arena. But I suspect that government is reticent to agree to the demands of ASUU because of the signal it will give to other unions in the country to agitate for similar demands. And that is the crux of the matter.
Given the scenario painted above, a more nuanced solution has become imperative. The need to shift grounds on both sides has become obvious to any discerning mind.
In funding the universities, we must begin to look beyond government and tap other sources of funding. One of my suggestions is for universities to look inwards in the spirit of university autonomy that they crave for in other aspects of the running of the system. Autonomy must include funding, you cannot be going cap in hand to the government every month and yet be asking for university autonomy.
ASUU as a union of teachers must hold the management of their universities accountable. Some of the monies they are asking for are ironically circulating within the system. Snippets from visitation panels have shown monumental mismanagement of funds by the management of many higher institutions. Even if government bows to the demands of ASUU, what is the guarantee that these monies will not go down the drain? Apart from salaries and other emoluments, ASUU may not benefit much from the release of funds. ASUU should hold their managements to account; they should blow the whistle for government to take action. Of course, some ASUU members also rise to management levels!
The second suggestion is for ASUU to allow governments to charge a more realistic tuition fees in public universities. I mention ASUU here because we have been witnesses to previous attempts to charge a more realistic fee resulting in strikes by the union. University education is a capital-intensive venture. A cursory look at what private universities are charging will give an inkling to what it really costs to educate a child at that level. I am not advocating meeting the high charges in private universities, but the current charges at public universities are simply unrealistic. The role of government in this is to now make students’ loans, bursaries and other incentives available at federal, state and local government levels to cushion the effects on indigent but brilliant students.
The duty of holding university managements accountable must be taken seriously by governments. What happened to the reports of visitation panels? How often are they constituted?
It is in this wise that the oversight functions of the legislative arms of government must be heightened. Adherence to best practices in the administration of public funds in the universities will solve most of the demands of ASUU.
Hon Fatoba (MHR) is a member representing Ekiti Central Federal Constituency 1, in the House of Representatives.